I’m Quoted . . .


As you can see above (feel free to click the photo to  zoom in), I was quoted in the newest book on major gifts fundraising, Rainmaking: The Fundraiser’s Guide to Landing Big Gifts by Andrew Olsen, CFRE & Roy Jones, CFRE.  If you are interested in learning some great strategies for starting or refreshing your organization’s major gifts strategy, check out this book!  For more information and to buy it, go here.

If you end up buying a copy, please feel free to share your thoughts and how you find it helpful in your work in the comments below.

Stewarding Capital Campaign Donors

Earlier this month, I participated in a special online chat sponsored by #fundchat (a weekly Twitter chat for fundraising professionals — which you should take part in if you are on Twitter!) on the topic of “Capitalizing on Capital Campaigns.”  Special guests Ian Adair and Nathan Hand shared their insights on the full gamut of capital campaigns, from feasibility studies to ribbon-cutting events for new buildings, based on their years of fundraising experience.

Near the end of the chat, I asked for any great stewardship ideas that Ian and Nathan may have, with a special focus on after the capital campaign has been completed (full disclosure: I am working on re-engaging some past CC donors and am always looking to hear what others are doing).  I thought that it would be worthwhile to share some of those ideas with you, my dear readers, so here it goes . . .

  • Invite EVERY donor to the ribbon cutting. Use DM and other means to tell them about the magic happening inside the walls they built. Turn them on to a particular program or need w/in the building. (Nathan)
  • Stewardship is key to keeping the donor well after a ribbon is cut. People like to know that organizations are good stewards of their money. I like to hold thank-a-thons just to let them know we appreciate their help and update them on everything going on. (Ian)
  • Have a 5 and 10 year reunion party. Invite some of those that ‘shined’ in the process to explore board/committee roles down the road…  (Nathan) // A great way to include them in the long term is to have anniversary parties where you invite them back to see what they were able to accomplish for the community. These are just thank you events – no asking whatsoever.
    Have those using facility tell what it has meant to them and show donors around to see programs and activities. (Ian) // Find pictures of the ribbon cutting and ID people in it, send a copy of the pic with their face circled in red sharpie – ‘Is this you??’ Join us for our 10th bday! (Nathan)
  • Most buildings get finished in the nice weather. Send campaign supporters a holiday card w/ a pic of the building in the snow – so they remember what they accomplished (Nathan)
  • Have your populations give thank you’s as well. I can say it all day, but when it comes from some of the children we serve the donor never forgets that moment. (Ian)

To see more of the strategies that Ian and Nathan shared in the chat, check out the transcript here.

How have you stewarded capital campaign donors in the short- and long-term?


Do You Survey Your Donors?

While looking through Lynne Wester’s website last year, I came across a sample donor survey that she used and this inspired me to integrate these surveys into my stewardship efforts.  As a result, I included a survey and return envelope with the annual President’s Report to Donors (which went out in hard copy and via e-mail), and was mailed to a few hundred donors last Fall.  Of the approximately 400 surveys that were distributed, I received about 7% of the surveys back (between hard copies mailed in and web submissions).

While I was primarily interested in gathering feedback from our donors on this stewardship piece that was just in its second year, I was also able to:

  • deepen relationships with donors based on their responses to a question about what areas of our work they would like to learn more about
  • gather more information about the donors through follow-up phone calls and letters

Because of the survey, I identified donors who are interested in I-House’s music programming and its history (which provided a way to connect with a donor who is a second-generation alumnus).  It also resulted in a donor making an Annual Fund gift twice as large as what she usually gives (which helped us with the multi-year challenge grant we completed at the end of last month — and about which I will be sharing in a future post).  I found this to be a really great way to touch donors without making an ask and provide a rare opportunity to get their input.  If you can, you should definitely integrate surveys into your stewardship strategy.

To learn about an interesting donor survey strategy, check out Pamela Grow’s blog post — Could You Borrow the Smartest Thing I Ever Did?

Have you used donor surveys before?  What kind of response did you get?  Did you find them useful?

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3 Simple & Impactful Ways to Thank (and Steward) Your Donors

As my fellow Americans are coming off of the Thanksgiving holiday, I thought it would be a good time to share a few ways to be more impactful in how you thank your donors.  To be clear, I see saying thank you as something that is not done only once after a gift is made, as it is really the first step in the ongoing stewardship process.  These three strategies can be deployed by any non-profit organization regardless of its size to thank donors and deepen donor relationships:

  1. Acknowledge every gift
    All non-profit organizations should be sending an acknowledgment letter for every gift that they receive in a very timely manner (some advocate for a 24- or 48-hour turnaround, though I believe it should be done within a few days to avoid falling out of the donor’s memory); these should not simply be the standard form letter, but include some sense of authenticity and a handwritten note from the author.  In addition, it is particularly useful to call or e-mail donors when a gift is received to extend a more personal and immediate thank you; this interaction also provides an opportunity to directly engage the donor in conversation about your work, his/her interests, upcoming events, etc.  During my career in fundraising, I am continually surprised by how few donors get some sort of thank you and how appreciative people are for such a small act.  If your organization does this, you will definitely stand out more to your donors, who will then have another reason to support your mission.
  2. Clearly reiterate key points from solicitation to acknowledgment
    Whether you are at an organization with one annual appeal and one special event or a fundraising shop with multiple appeals and events, it is imperative that you maintain the appropriate message across your communications.  For example, we sent out targeted appeals earlier this year to the alumnae of our Women’s International Leadership Program in commemoration of the program’s 20th anniversary, so I made sure that the celebratory tone was carried through from the acknowledgments, to the thank you e-mails that went out and the gift acknowledgment letters.  By maintaining your message this way, you will not confuse your donors and keep them engaged by invoking what originally inspired them to make a gift.
  3. Connect donors with beneficiaries of your organization’s work
    You should take full advantage of any and all opportunities to bring your donors and the beneficiaries of your work together, whether or not in person, so that they can “see” how their giving is making a difference.  A few examples of this strategy from my work in the last few years have included: inviting a small group residents to I-House’s annual gala (and other special events) to interact with the major donors, honorees and guests to let them see firsthand who benefits from their generosity; regular reports to named room & scholarship donors to provide regular assurance that their gift continues to positively affect our resident community; and the use of a resident-produced video at our 2011 gala to provide a clear perspective of the resident experience, which we have been able to re-purpose for friend-raising and more awareness-building efforts.

As I said earlier, saying thank you should only be the first step in the process of stewarding your donors.  I hope that these three strategies can help you improve your thank yous and overall donor stewardship efforts.  What are some other simple and impactful ways that you have thanked your donors?

Do You Have a Magic Drawer?

Last week I came across an amazing post by Shanon Doolittle and had to share it with you, my dear readers.  It’s a great idea that is a particularly easy stewardship strategy that everyone can try —  a magic drawer.  Check out the post and let me know what you think!

I look forward to starting my own magic drawer this week!

What easy stewardship strategies do you use with your donors?

Quick Tips: Fundraising with Your CEO

In last week’s post, I shared some great points that I gleaned from Fund Raising Day in New York’s “Leading the Leaders: How to Motivate Your Board to Cultivate Major Gifts” session.  Today, I want to cover some quick tips that the panelists put forth on how to work with your organization’s CEO (or Executive Director) on fundraising:

When the CEO doesn’t “get” fundraising . . .

Gregory Boroff of amfar — The Foundation for AIDS Research encouraged working progressively with your CEO when he/she does not get fundraising.  For example, you could start him/her off with thank you phone calls and slowly move into deeper donor relations and engagement efforts like donor visits, active cultivation & stewardship, accompanying solicitors on face-to-face asks and finally making the face-to-face asks.

Managing expectations

Kerry Kruckel Gibbs of WNET-Thirteen stated that she is very clear with her CEO at the beginning of each year about what she expects and needs him to do in regard to fundraising, with details about the number of asks, visits, etc.  When facing resistance to meeting these expectations, she is clear about the role that charitable gifts play in the organization’s budget and why the CEO is an important part of reaching the overall fundraising goals.


In those situations where she is preparing the CEO for an ask, Ms. Gibbs will always be sure to rehearse the aforementioned ask with him/her.  Not only does this get the solicitor comfortable with the major points that should be covered and what to expect from the donor, it should provide the fundraiser with sufficient comfort that the solicitor is fully prepared.  Now, Ms. Gibbs did note that there have been some occasions where her CEO went off-script during an ask and that it was not always a bad thing, so do keep in mind that possibility.

I hope that you have found these quick tips helpful.  What other tips would you share for successfully and effectively reaching your fundraising goals through the direct efforts of your CEO?

A New Perspective on Board Recruitment and Retention

Yesterday on The Michael Chatman Giving Show, the guest was fundraising coach and non-profit communications strategist Lori Jacobwith.  I have followed Lori for most of the last year that I have been on Twitter, as she is a really smart non-profit professional.

Lori made a few particular points about non-profit board recruitment and retention which have stuck in my mind since yesterday’s show:

1.  Before joining a board, the prospect should ask for a job description and discuss the expectations of board members with the organization’s leadership.

I agree with Lori that this proactive approach would help prevent the way that most boards are measured by the easiest metric — how much money each person contributes.  By focusing on what skills are needed on the board and what is expected of them, there should not be any rude awakenings six months in when each trustee is asked for a five-figure gift (for example).

2.  Only 6% of non-profit organizations provide any training to their board members (whether on governance, fundraising, or any other skills that they are expected to use in their board roles).

I have been thinking about this one myself, with special focus on ways to transition my organization’s board into more active fundraising with individuals and institutions.  Without providing training for our trustees, it simply is not fair to expect them to show up with these skills.

3.  Non-profit organizations need to stop treating board members like ATMs and get back to engaging them in the work as key partners.

By engaging our board members (and all donors) as key partners in pursuing the organization’s mission, they will be more likely to give generously by feeling like they are invested in the work (and not like we only want them for their financial support).

To hear the full conversation between Lori and Michael, listen to the podcast here.  There is an amazing anecdote that Lori shares near the end of the show about how a non-profit leader cultivated a relationship with a prominent business leader by engaging him first as a mentor, instead of immediately trying to get him to join her organization’s board.  I won’t spoil the ending for you, but will encourage you to listen in and take notes!

What does your organization do in regard to recruiting and retaining board members?

If you are not aware of it, The Michael Chatman Giving Show is a great resource to learn about the intersection of business and philanthropy.  The show is hosted by Michael Chatman, a Harvard-trained entrepreneur, founder of the Association of Maverick Philanthropists and an expert in the field of celebrity-charity partnerships.  You can catch the show’s live webcast every Thursday at 11:30 a.m. EST at 880thebiz or on Michael’s website.  You can also follow the chat each week by following me and the members of the “Philanthropy Mafia” on Twitter:
@IanMAdair @NickSava @FundraiserBeth @DomDJones @officialjos @michaelchatman

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Seminar Recap: Ethics & Stewardship in Planned Giving

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the last session of the Philanthropic Planning Group of Greater New York‘s The ABC of Gift Planning seminar series, which focused on ethics and stewardship in planned giving.  The seminar was facilitated by veteran fundraiser and consultant Davida Isaacson; you can read Davida’s full bio (and more about the seminar) here, but let’s suffice it to say that she is one of the big names in the field especially after her amazing tenure at WNET/New York, where she helped raise $30 million in planned gift initiatives for the $65 million Campaign for Thirteen.

I learned a great deal in this session and want to share with you some of those lessons that may help you in managing your planned giving program (or serve as points to consider as you add planned giving to your fundraising program):

The primary ethical issue for fundraisers in planned giving is the tension between who’s interest are you serving — the donor or your organization?
As a fundraiser, you likely have a long and trusted relationship with your planned giving donors, but you also have a responsibility to secure gifts for your organization that will help support its mission for the foreseeable future.  When a donor wants to make a gift that may be more beneficial to him/her and not as useful to the organization, on which side will you fall?  [This is when Davida would start advocating that every non-profit organization compose its gift acceptance policies, which would provide a clear understanding of what gifts will be accepted; the processes of evaluation, valuation, disposal, etc.; what gifts you will not accept; etc.]

Planned giving is more vulnerable to ethical issues.
“Why?” you may ask, well you are usually dealing with older donors, with whom you and/or your organization tend to have longstanding relationships and are likely to trust you.  One particularly interesting issue that can arise in this work is the mental competence of the donors making these commitments.  How would you deal with a donor who is showing signs of dementia but wants to make a planned gift?  Is it even your place to bring this up?

Access to your fundraising database usually presents an ethical issue.
Have you considered that volunteers using your fundraising database could access all sorts of private information on your donors, board members, etc.?  Only because this came up while managing interns have I given this some thought before.  You should set up restricted access logins for your volunteers and anyone else who may need to access a certain part of your fundraising database; if this is not an option, you need to set some office policies in place about how information is provided to volunteers.

Your gift servicing operations must be viewed as a part of the stewardship process.
Providing tax reports, copies of completed agreements, endowment reports, acknowledgments and the like are another way to solidify the relationship with your donors.  By getting documents like these to the donor in a very timely manner, they are more likely to trust you and may even consider making another gift (especially when this is paired with more ongoing stewardship activities).  Be sure to review these processes in your organization and assure that there is a maximum turnaround of a few days.

A few other quick tips:
-When making calls to planned giving prospects or donors, do not get into too much detail if you have to leave a message.  Davida made a great point that the spouse or family of a donor may not agree with his/her intention to make a planned gift and may not pass on the messages if they know why you are calling.
-Use a gift disclosure form like this sample that Davida provided in the seminar materials.  A document like this gives you and your organization some extra protection in the case that the family or other potential heirs of your donor want to contest the gift at a later date.

Have you thought about any of these issues before?  What changes would you make to your planned giving program in light of these points?

P.S.  If you would like to see Davida in action and live in the NYC area, you should join PPGGNY or keep your eyes open for the class schedule at NYU’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy & Fundraising.

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Stewardship: A Key Part of the Fundraising Diet

The Food Pyramid


As a fundraiser who focuses on individuals (and as you may have guessed by the name of this blog), I absolutely believe that stewardship is at the heart of successful fundraising.

I believe that stewardship:

  1. Shows your donors what you are doing with their contributions
  2. Provides opportunities to build trust and share your org’s successes, while also deepening
  3. Way to reconnect with lapsed donors
  4. Translates well with individual and institutional donors

In my current position, I have had great success with expanded stewardship initiatives like the following:

Named room reports
For more than three decades, donors have been able to name a resident room for a a major gift in the low five figures.  However upon my arrival, I found that there had been inconsistent stewardship of these major donors and proposed that we provide annual reports to these donors about the resident(s) who lived in their named rooms.  These reports allow us to be in touch with these donors without asking for a gift, to thank them again for their past generosity and to show why their continued support is needed.

Annual President’s Report to Donors
As our printed Annual Report is produced in small quantities and shared primarily through e-mail, I thought that it would be worthwhile to provide a regular update in hard copy that is personalized to a range of donors, especially while we are in the last year of a multi-million-dollar challenge grant.  These letters are another touch point and provide an opportunity to follow-up with special event donors and other key constituencies as necessary.

Admission application copies
From its founding almost 90 years ago until about the 1970’s, my organization maintained resident records in detailed individual forms.  An easy way to show appreciation to our dedicated alumni donors from these time periods is to send them a copy of their admission application (especially if there is an old photo of the donor attached to it); it brings back treasured memories of their time, friends they made and can help reconnect them with our work at a very low cost.  One particular donor wrote a kind note saying that he felt very appreciated and welcomed back into the organization’s community after receiving a copy of his admission application.

Do you have any innovative stewardship strategies that you have used?

For further reading on stewardship, check out this great post by Barbara Talisman (I hope to cover some of her key points in future posts).

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How Receptive is Your Donor Reception?

The President of Eastern Virginia Medical School thanks donors for their support in 2010 and sends the message home with the banner behind him.

Last month, we hosted a donor reception at work specifically for loyalty donors (those who had given consecutively for at least five years) and recent reunion alumni who had contributed toward a named resident room.  Earlier this month, my graduate alma mater — NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service — hosted its annual reception for donors.

After going through the donor reception experience so recently on both sides of the fence — as both a fundraiser and a donor — I wanted to share some tips for making these events a success:

1. Matching up donors with those benefiting from their generosity

A colleague of mine matched up a small group of I-House residents with the donors who were attending the reception.  These matches provided each donor the opportunity to get to know a resident directly and see the use of his/her Annual Fund dollars over the years.

2. Personalize invitations, so that donors know why they are being invited/recognized

When you are inviting donors, you must make it clear why they are being invited.  When you use vague language, your donors are likely to be confused.  One quick story that I must share on this point:
I made numerous follow-up calls to loyalty donors who had responded to the invitations that we had mailed out.  When I called one in particular, she asked why she had been invited (assuming that only major donors were invited for donor receptions) and I got to explain to her that she had been supporting our organization for many years and we appreciated her dedicated generosity.  Even after we were explicit in the invitation that she was being invited for her “many years of financial support,” she still assumed that there was some sort of mistake.  (At a later date I will explore in greater depth the fact that many donors are so ill-stewarded that they don’t know what to do when they are truly thanked and appreciated.)

3. Create a draw for your event, aside from being thanked in person for their support

It always helps to have some well-known people in your organization’s universe to take part in your donor receptions.  The chance to meet and greet with these people will encourage some donors to attend your reception, though it will also provide some good photo opportunities that can be used later  to further cultivate and steward the donors in attendance.  While we scheduled our reception to begin immediately following a meeting of the board of trustees, which allowed donors to network with a good group of them.  NYU Wagner had Former Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. make some brief remarks and take questions from the donors in attendance (he has recently joined the school’s faculty as a Distinguished Practitioner in Residence).

What successful donor reception strategies have worked for you?  Please feel free to share in the comments.

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